In Fern E. Firestone, et al. v. American Premier Underwriters Inc. and U.S. Railroad Vest, Corp., No. 06A01-0804-CV-199, the appellate court had to determine whether the trial court erred in ruling that claims brought by Wayne E. Boyd and Bunker Farms to the subject real estate don't fall within the category of title disputes excluded from the scope of declaratory judgment entered by a trial court in October 2004.
The issue arises out of a settlement agreement entered into by the railroad company and the plaintiff class, people who owned land next to or over land which Penn Central - now American Premier Underwriters - had a right-of-way for railroad use that is no longer utilized for that purpose.
The agreement stipulated when the plaintiff class' title to any portion of the settlement land adjacent to their property would be superior to the claims of title by APU and when APU's title to designated land would be superior to the class' claims.
The settlement said upon entry of the final order and judgment by the court, the class would be forever barred from initiating, claiming, or prosecuting any cause of action against APU or any released party that could have been brought in the suit. There was a stipulation in Paragraph 8 that said this declaratory judgment won't resolve title disputes between individual persons which may occur as a result of conveyances of portions of the settlement land.
Bunker Farms filed a complaint after the settlement to establish revision of title to real estate and to quiet title in the abandoned right-of-way in DeKalb County. The trial court granted APU's motions to enjoin Bunker Farms from bringing its action to quiet title.
Paragraph 8 doesn't give Bunker Farms the right to bring its action, wrote Senior Judge John Sharpnack. To allow Bunker Farms' separate suit against APU would "eviscerate the settlement agreement and the declaratory judgment," the judge wrote.
"Many, if not all, disputes over ownership between APU and class members would fall within Bunker Farms' interpretation," he wrote. "That would be an absurd result and cannot have been the intent of Paragraph 8. Rather, the paragraph speaks to parties, not including APU, who might dispute who has the ownership of the subject real estate."
As a result, the trial court was correct in its interpretation of Paragraph 8 and its order to enjoin Bunker Farms was not an error.